Tennessee move to halt vaccine outreach to teens ‘incredibly disturbing’

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Fund Subcommittee hearing to consider FY 2022 budget proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jim Lo Scalzo | AFP | Getty Images

Tennessee’s decision to stop vaccinating teenagers during a pandemic is “incredibly worrying,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

“I find this incredibly worrying. It’s not only worrying for Covid, but also for all vaccine-preventable diseases,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Thursday in an interview with CBS This Morning.

The state’s Department of Health has reportedly decided to end the diffusion of youth vaccines for all vaccines, not just Covid, effectively ending any government communication or education initiatives for youth in the state about vaccines.

The decision made headlines when the state’s Medical Director for Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Programs for the Tennessee Department of Health, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was released after sending a memo to doctors outlining government policies that allow minors to seek medical assistance without parents’ approval.

Department spokesman Bill Christian said in a statement to CNBC that the state has not stopped its child immunization program and continues to “support these education efforts. Information provision and access are routine public health functions and that has not changed ”.

He did not specifically say whether the state’s own outreach program has stopped.

The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper, reported Tuesday that it had access to internal reports and emails instructing Tennessee Department of Health officials to subsequently remove the agency’s logo from any vaccine awareness materials circulated.

In another email addressing the Tennessee claims made by the agency’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tim Jones, who were sent, told staff not to “make proactive efforts to get routine vaccines”. Staff were also reportedly told not to pre-plan for flu prevention measures in schools. In the emails, Jones reportedly said that all school-related vaccine information should come from the state’s Department of Education.

The newspaper also claims that internal documents reportedly suggest that Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey has been instructed to stop all Covid vaccine events on school premises and to stop sending postcards or other communications reminding teenagers to return for their second dose of Covid vaccinations.

On Thursday, the agency released a statement calling the reports circulating as misinformation. “There was no interruption in the children’s vaccination program or access to the Covid-19 vaccine while the department evaluated annual marketing efforts for parents,” Piercey said in the statement.

The statement does not address reports that the agency has stopped the youth vaccine campaign.

Fiscus said she felt the pressure after highlighting a public document from a state Supreme Court ruling that allows residents over the age of 14 to seek medical treatment without a parent’s consent, “unless the doctor believes the minor has not grown up enough to make his or her own health decisions, “the ruling reads.

“I’m not a political agent, I’m a doctor,” Fiscus told MSNBC. She said she was told she was “poking the bear” and that she needed to work on her political awareness after the public document was released. Republican lawmakers compared the vaccine’s reach for teenagers to peer pressure, she said.

Tennessee has one of the worst Covid vaccination rates in the country, fully immunizing only 38% of the total population, according to CDC data. The state is also seeing increasing Covid cases, with the average number of new cases every day rising from 177 to 418 in the past two weeks alone.

“We now have our most reluctant population who are rural male conservative whites who really hang their hats on this political ideology that Covid-19 is not real, that it is not a threat, or that getting the vaccine kind of sustains the left. Wings of our political system, “she told MSNBC.

Cases rise in the state and others with low vaccination rates as the delta variant prevails in the United States

“That’s what we expected … that’s what we would see in areas with high vaccination rates and low case numbers, and now we are seeing high case numbers in areas with low vaccination,” Walensky said.

Walensky said infections could surge in the next few months, but if more people are vaccinated now, the nation can “prevent what could happen in the fall”.

Correction: In an earlier version of the heading, Dr. Rochelle Walensky misquoted.

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